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F is for Facebook

October 26, 2011

Aartwork – Brad Tuttle

dev·il’s advocate (dᵉv’ᵊlz) n. One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

devilsaardvark   (a:d’va:k’) n. As devil’s advocate, only with a much larger nose.

F is for Facebook. Yes I know I said at the end of A is for Aardvark that my next piece would probably be B is for Business, but

1. I haven’t progressed far enough with the development of the business to write a full and comprehensive article and

2. Thinking longer-term here, I’m not entirely sure that I can be arsed to write X is for Xylophone/X-ray/Xenon Tetraflouride just for the sake of being neat. Even if P is for Pedant does have a certain appeal.

I split up with Facebook in 2010. She was like a typical, jilted lover. The conversation went something like this:~

Me: I’m leaving you.

Facebook: Why? Don’t you love me anymore?

Me: I feel like I don’t have any privacy any more. It feels like there’s more than just you and me in this relationship. It’s just not working for me.

Facebook: I can change. I need you. Please don’t leave me, I’m begging you!

Me: It’s too late for that. I need to move on.

Facebook: Well I’m keeping everything.

Me: Hang on a minute, they were my friends long before we ever got together.

Facebook: La la la, I’m not listening.

Me: Can’t we just be adult about this?

Facebook: Fine, but I’m still going to keep all of our records, our photos, all of those precious momentos of the time we spent together. Then, when you’ve seen sense, you can come back to me and we can pick up again right from where we left off.

Me: OK, you’re starting to scare me a little here. I’m going. [Exits]

Facebook: [Calling off and sobbing] But I still love you…

And that was that. For a couple of weeks at least. Then I received an email from her saying that she was glad I had decided to come back and that, as promised, everything had been restored to how it was previously. It was like I was being stalked. And yes, I do know how that feels before anyone accuses me of being trivial. I hadn’t reactivated the account and felt mildly violated.So we had the same conversation, only this time I used a few more expletives. She took the hint.

Then, last week, I did something that no man should ever do. Yes, I tried again with the ex. Yes, Facebook. I know, I shouldn’t have. The following morning I just felt cheap and wracked with guilt. In my defence, I was trying to set up a link to my website, so it was purely for business purposes – if that doesn’t make it sound even more sordid! – but it was daft idea. Wasn’t it? Actually, it wasn’t even my idea in the first place and I guess that that makes me even less of a man! Anyway, I made a mistake when signing up and needed to go back and start again. This was evidently all too much for her fragile emotional state to handle and she flew into the same conversation as last year. I certainly wasn’t going to do the flowers, chocolates or tickets to her favourite show routine.

The problem with Facebook, as I now see it, is this. She is a behemoth. She is the very embodiment of ubiquitous and that worries me. Just as it might justifiably worry an official from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Just as Hansel and Gretel perhaps sensed something sinister about the gingerbread house in the woods. Yet all that sweet, sticky stuff has an almost irresistible appeal and, well what harm can it do? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a club that everyone else is a member of? The chances are that you, yourself have an account. The majority of people I know do. It seems like the world and his good lady wife are cavorting with Facebook and that, if you’re not, you’re missing out on something.

Around three-quarters of a billion of us worldwide are in the Facebook. It is, on the face of it, a free service that allows us easy access to our nearest and dearest, gives us the opportunity to catch up with old friends we had lost touch with, play games and share pictures. It also, curiously, allows us to poke people, which I always felt delivered a lot less than it promised.  It is the social network made from the finest gingerbread, garnished with gumdrops, festooned with fruit pastilles and lavished with liquorice. But beware the witch that dwells within!

In theory Facebook still holds all the data I gave it in the years we were together and will continue to hold it. How else would it be able to resume our relationship from where we left off? I did say that, on the face if it, it was a free service, but someone has to pay to keep her in the fashion to which she has become accustomed. Apart from the advertising revenue, all the information you provide from your profile is hugely profitable for marketing companies. Ironically, it was access to such a vast potential audience that prompted me to consider going back for my own nefarious marketing purposes, but I’ve made my mistake and shan’t be going back again however green the grass appears.

There have been a number of reasonably well-publicised cases where individuals have challenged Facebook’s right to store data. It would appear that there are different legal requirements for companies on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The US and Canada are far more relaxed about data mining, whilst we Europeans tend to be naturally more cautious which is reflected in our more stringent laws regarding consumer protection. Regardless of the legal ins and outs, the fact that Facebook has strenuously defended its position on data handling and retention seems to indicate that it has an interest to maintain and why wouldn’t it? If it lost revenue because it was less attractive to marketing companies it might have to start charging users for their accounts. So you either allow information about your comings and goings to be sold on to third parties or you pay a subscription for privacy. Or you say ‘no’ to the whole kit and kaboodle and take yourself out of the loop. Oh hang on a minute, you can’t because if you leave, your data will be stored anyway.

Facebook is by no means the only organisation that entices us with pretty services in order to gain access to our consumer habits. Of course not. Own any supermarket loyalty card, subscribe to any online service or fill in any form that requires you to give an email address and you begin to leave yourself susceptible to spam – the defecation of the marketing world, marking its territory like a dog marks a lamppost. In the end, by signing over our personal details, we are allowing ourselves to be urinated upon. Spam is the online equivalent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses turning up, unannounced on your doorstep, which is about as welcome as gonorrhoea. Unsolicited text messages at 2am inviting me to spend cash I haven’t got on something I have absolutely no interest in ought to be grounds for pleading diminished responsibility.

Not that it’s going to make a shred of difference, but here’s the deal. I will be perfectly happy to subscribe to any service, application or other body on one condition. And that condition is that my personal details belong to me and, whilst I agree to share them for the duration of my subscription, when I choose to unsubscribe from the aforementioned service, application or other body, those details will be returned to me in full and without prejudice.

No, I don’t think Facebook will buy that one either. Never mind. Am I upset? Well, put it this way…

I’m quite happy living my life in blind ignorance of the fact that someone that I’ve never heard of has managed to acquire another virtual animal for the their make-believe farm!

X is for Xanax. That would work!

@devilsaardvark

Further reading [basically some of the sites I looked at before and during the writing of this]

http://www.news24.com/SciTech/News/Student-takes-on-Facebook-over-privacy-20111026

http://europe-v-facebook.org/EN/en.html

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/10/23/facebook_responds_to_shadow_profile/

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_data_mining_truth_in_association.php

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From → Spam

One Comment
  1. I liked this so much, I posted it on Facebook!

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